Kilauea Crater Rim Drive

The colored number circles correspond to
the links on the right side of this page.

  1. Kilauea Visitor Center
  2. Sulphur Banks
  3. Steam Vents and Steaming Bluff
  4. Kilauea Overlook
  5. Hawaiian Volcano Observatory & Jaggar Museum
  6. Southwest Rift Zone
  7. Halemaumau Overlook
  8. Keanakakoi Overlooks
  9. Puu Puai Overlook
  10. Thurston Lava Tube
  11. Kilauea Iki Overlook

Crater Rim Drive, Stop 5 - Hawaiian Volcano Observatory & Jaggar Museum

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory was established in 1912 by Dr. Thomas Jaggar of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The original observatory was at the present location of the Volcano House. The observatory was moved to Uwekahuna Bluff, the highest point on the caldera rim, in 1916, when the national park was created. The observatory has been managed by the Hawaiian Volcano Research Association, the U.S. Weather Bureau, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the National Park Service. Halemaumau pit crater is in the background. Photograph by J.D. Griggs, U.S. Geological Survey, October 23, 1986.

Jaggar believed that loss of life and property from volcanic eruptions could be minimized by better understanding the ways that volcanoes work. He developed many methods to study Hawaiian volcanoes, including the use of seismographs to study the size, number, and distribution of earthquakes associated with the volcanoes. This photograph shows Jaggar taking notes as a coworker measures cracks on the rim of Halemaumau. Photograph from The Volcano Letter, No. 434, 1936.

Jaggar's work is continued today by geologists of the U.S. Geological Survey. Using seismology, ground deformation, geology, and geochemistry, these scientists study all aspects of the volcano. What they learn is used to protect citizens and property near more dangerous volcanoes around the world. This photograph shows geologists cooling a lava sample they collected through a skylight. The chemistry of the sample can indicate changes in the eruption. Photograph by J.D. Griggs, U.S. Geological Survey, December 5, 1990.

The Jaggar Museum contains numerous exhibits that explain the history and behavior of Hawaiian volcanoes. The museum and a sales outlet for the Hawaii Natural History Association are open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Nene, the state bird of Hawaii, frequent the museum parking lot. Please follow park rules to protect these birds.

Seismometers and a tiltmeter on display in the museum provide real-time data about the volcanoes. This photograph shows the record for a tilt meter. Rapid increases in tilt can indicate that magma is accumulating at shallow levels within the volcano and is often a precursor to an eruption. Rapid decreases in tilt can indicate that magma is draining at shallow leaves within the volcano and moving into a rift zone. Movement of magma into a rift zone is often a precursor to a flank eruption. The tilt record in the above photograph is flat. It indicates that magma is moving from deep beneath the volcano, through the shallow magma chamber beneath the summit, and out to the eruption site on the east rift with no interruption. Recent flow maps and copies of VolcanoWatch, a weekly newspaper article about the volcanoes, are also on display.

Most of the volcanic features at the summit of Kilauea can be seen from the overlook at Jaggar Museum. Crater Rim Drive and Crater Rim Trail provide access to most of these features. Exhibits at the overlook explain how the caldera formed and the basics of how the volcano works.

Written and Photographed by Steve Mattox except where stated.

Sources of Information

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